Assessing standards for the profession

Published on July 6th, 2020

The category of ‘professional sailor’ has morphed to cover a lot of ground and the degree of refinement for the adjective before the noun has significant range too. Attorney Maurice Cusick, specializing in maritime law, offer this observation from his office in Newport, RI:

Two things I would like to write about, if you are a professional sailor. One is this new term floating about: ‘day worker’.

Now, I don’t know where it came from, as it was not in use when I was varnishing and sailing on the Newport waterfront in the 1970s. But it is highly inaccurate in its use today.

If you are working for a day or two, fine. You can be a ‘day worker’. But if you are working for a vessel for ‘more than a few days’ you are not a ‘day worker’. You are a member of the ‘crew’. Also known as a sailor. Most likely a ‘seaman’, applicable to both men and women, but that is a technical legal distinction and a very important one.

You see, maritime law has goals that far out see you or me, or even our lifetimes. Maritime law was designed to protect you, your family, and oddly enough other sailors you do not even know, and even build a country, because we have a huge coastline.

Most of the time when someone gets injured on a boat, you don’t see it coming. Someone armor-alled the tubes and you fall into the propellers, a rope breaks and a marine battery crushes a foot, a vessel makes a wrong move and there is a collision. And so on…

Under such circumstances you might need surgery. Or physical therapy. How are you going to pay your mortgage? Well, if you are not a day worker but are connected to the vessel more as a crew member, and are paid, well vessels have ‘maintenance and cure’ insurance. Cure pays all your medical bills – not you. Maintenance helps to maintain you financially until you are back on your feet.

But there’s a movement now to not pay it to ‘day workers’. Nope. You, sir or madam, although injured at someone else’s fault, you are on your own because you were merely a ‘day worker’. Now stop and think about how this might affect your life if this happened to you this past weekend.

I have in my office right now a nothing less than professional sailor, on a well-known, internationally known, racing yacht. His work and sailing career may be over in an instant. What does he do now, with three children?

So if you are working on a vessel for more than a few days, don’t accept the term ‘day worker’. No matter what they call you, you are not a ‘day worker’. If you do a voyage, for a week, you are ‘crew’. I am seeing people crossing the Atlantic and those serving for four months referred to incorrectly as a ‘day worker’.

I hate to tell you, but in whaling days, the second you left the dock, maybe even before that, you were a member if the ‘crew’ and entitled to protected status. Even today, crew and ‘seaman’ status is gained on your first day. Despite what they may tell you.

The second thing I would like to address is where, oh where, has the nobility of this profession gone?

This topic has recently been addressed in Scuttlebutt along with various articles and comments on how in the olde days racers simply retired from a race after violating a rule, or voluntarily and now immediately do penalty turns. But it seems that some sailors now are not doing what is right – supporting your fellow sailors.

They are not taking the high road. They don’t want to get involved. Yet, if you were the injured person, believe me, you’d want your friends and fellow sailors to say what happened. Some pro sailors don’t want to get blacklisted by owners.

My advice is just like penalty turns: own it. Typically, if not always, there is insurance. And remember that could have been you. Usually the person that is injured did nothing wrong. Someone else did or the equipment was faulty.

That other crew member needs your help. And don’t just stand there – go and contact him or her. Even if he is on another boat. Now go read (or watch) Band of Brothers. You’ll get my point.

Lastly, I was out watching classic Shields racing on Wednesday night in the harbor. I counted 18 boats on the line and another just launched to join in. So, Newport is back in action. I can’t even drive down Thames Street without someone stumbling off the sidewalk. So it appears to be business as usual now… finally!

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